ROME — While Italy might lag behind the rest of Western Europe in Internet usage, pay channel Sky Italia is pushing the country to the forefront of the social media-TV frontierthrough hit competition series “The X Factor,” using a strategy in which the feevee aims to make itself a must-have for Italo consumers.

“Our choice of making something so interactive and digital is driven by the fact that that you want to do something very different from free-to-air; in some way it’s an obligation for pay TV,” says Sky Italia exec VP Andrea Scrosati.

Sky Italia viewers can vote for “X-Factor” contestants via Twitter, as well as their TV remote. Also available are apps, such as an applause meter that measures the approval of folks watching at home — and will turn the TV screen green or red during the finals depending on the intensity of the clapping.

Scrosati notes that Sky Italia has many more interactive bells and whistles than, say, free-to-air broadcaster ITV in the U.K., which draws 9 million-10 million viewers per show, as opposed to the Italo feevee’s less than 1 million per episode. Sky Italia, which has just under 5 million subs in a nation of roughly 22 million TV homes, sees social media as a way to offer smaller audiences the kind of water-cooler experience auds get from ratings-grabbing shows on free-to-air nets.

Significantly, on a recent evening, 750,000 “X-Factor” votes were cast from Italian couches, representing almost the entirety of that episode’s audience. By contrast, votes cast from Italo TV households for the latest edition of the country’s top-rated Sanremo song fest, which pulls millions of eyeballs on pubcaster RAI, reached a total of 1 million spread across five nights.

Sky Italia is infusing social media into other shows as well, including cooking competition “Master Chef” and the Italo version of “The Apprentice” (where the big boss is auto racing entrepreneur and playboy Flavio Briatore). Sky Italia’s upcoming Formula One auto racing coverage, for which it is splitting rights with pubcaster RAI, will also differentiate itself from the Italo pubcaster’s offerings by featuring a slew of interactive features and exclusive apps across multiple screens and devices.